While things are not always easy in the business world, I can’t fathom what it would be like to make a living in politics. It’s fascinating as the presidential election nears to observe the lengths candidates and parties will go to in an effort to persuade voters to their platforms. Each election cycle, the methods seem to get louder and more outrageous, with listening and consensus-building a thing of the past. Can’t we all just get along and work for a common good? What’s stopping progress to that end? Recently I found a few articles that do a great job of explaining what’s going on. Interesting reading, whether you’re politically inclined or not.
- “Most arguments about politics never seem to get anywhere.” This lead sentence from How to argue better, according to science addresses the question of why intelligent, passionate people are rarely effective in convincing others to their point of view. It turns out that passion is not enough. Our moral foundations run strong and deep, and it’s difficult to move someone off a position that is congruent. This article does an excellent job of describing the moral foundations of the two major parties, and how arguments could be reframed to appeal to those of differing opinions. One timely example is regarding gun control.
- The Key to Political Persuasion echoes the same theme: “In business, everyone knows that if you want to persuade people to make a deal with you, you have to focus on what they value, not what you do.” The authors also see reframing messages as the solution, but it needs to be more than a parlor game to be successful: “Maybe reframing political arguments in terms of your audience’s morality should be viewed less as an exercise in targeted, strategic persuasion, and more as an exercise in real, substantive perspective taking.” Interesting results are reported from experiments on same-sex marriage, increased military spending and making English the official language of the U.S.
- NPR asks Is Arguing With Passion The Most Effective Way To Persuade Opponents? Nope. Reframing (again) is the solution. This brief article also gives the examples of gay marriage and English as the country’s official language.
Reframing can certainly be applied in the business arena. Too often we argue from our expert or authoritative position. How often do we think about the audiences we are trying to address and carefully articulate a rationale that more closely maps to their underlying concerns or perspective?
It’s challenging and takes time, but I believe would be more effective in the end.
“I’ve trained all my life not to be distracted by distractions.” —Nik Wallenda, daredevil, seventh-generation member of the Flying Wallenda’s Family
When my daughters were in high school, I looked on in amazement as they studied. They’d have music playing and/or the television on while responding to the never-ending buzz of social media notifications. This didn’t stop them from finishing a paper or studying for a test, and their good grades showed this method worked for them.
I can’t imagine settling down to work with so many distractions. Is it a question of age? A quick Google search locates many articles that confirm that as we age, our ability to filter distractions decreases.
Likely just as significant is one’s definition of a “distraction.” The background noise of a coffee shop, for example, doesn’t bother me at all. The gentle mix of music, other people’s conversations, and the familiar sound of the coffee grinder or espresso machine blend together in a pleasant cacophony.
From time to time I need quiet and dark to filter out distractions. On other occasions, looking out a window and noticing weather, nature, and general goings-on can bring focus. Driving is another opportunity to control and shape the environment. Loud music, National Public Radio, or quiet thoughts with a stack of post-it notes at the ready can each be therapeutic in their own way. Other times it’s just heads down into the computer or forcing myself to apply extra concentration to a phone conversation or conference call. Mindfulness techniques that keep me in the moment can be a great help.
I’m curious what filters others use to keep out unwanted distractions. What are the characteristics of environments that hinder your focus? What are the conditions that foster productivity?
When I recently took inventory of my to-read list, I was surprised to find that I haven’t ordered a physical book since August. Meanwhile, my e-reader is getting a little overwhelmed. Here’s what is loaded up—we’ll see how much progress I make while on vacation this week. The titles below all have links to their Kindle versions.
Design Thinking: Business Innovation by MJV Press
143 Visuals To Inspire You to Take Action by Scott Torrance and Mirka Volakova
Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time by Jeffrey Pfeffer
24 Hour Mindfulness: How to be calmer and kinder in the midst of it all by Rohan Gunatillake
Leading Continuous Change: Navigating Churn in the Real World by Bill Pasmore
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations by Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone
Since I last reported on my reading habits, my pending pile—or what I affectionately call the guilt pile— is growing. Here’s a sampling.
The Road to Reinvention: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation by Josh Linkner delves in the pitfalls of failing to change and provides strategies for reinvention.
Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated by Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman gets into the intricacies of dealing with complex situations and offers a solution for companies that is based on leveraging the potential of their human resources.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande shows how one’s end of life can be managed with more compassion and dignity than currently provided with today’s standards of care. His powerfully delivered message results in three important questions about your mortality: What is your biggest fear? What is your greatest hope? What trade-offs are you willing to make (or not make)?
Last month two friends shared links to articles about the potential of a massive earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. This was news to me, as I had never even heard of the Cascadia subduction zone. Having a daughter attending college in the Northwest made the story relevant.
A well-written and engaging story in the New Yorker called The Really Big One by Kathryn Schulz instigated a flurry of reporting. What really set people off was this paragraph:
“…we now know that the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten.”
The article went on to describe the massive amount of destruction and cited FEMA’s estimate of thirteen thousand deaths. The buzz in the common press was pretty significant, generating headlines like, “How to prepare for the big one” and “New massive earthquake projection is absolutely horrifying.” The response was so strong that the author wrote a follow-up article entitled How to Stay Safe When the Big One Comes, further fueling the buzz.
Residents of the Northwest are well aware that they live in an earthquake-prone area. Still, discussions have ramped up in the aftermath of the publicity. About a month ago, an event was staged at Oregon State University to inform the public and facilitate dialogue. All 560 seats in the large auditorium were full.
Coincidently, after seeing my friends’ posts, I was on a flight to the Pacific Northwest, and read The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–but Some Don’t by noted statistician Nate Silver. One chapter is all about the science behind earthquake predictions and forecasts. What stuck with me was his simple and illustrative explanation: a PREDICTION is definitive and specific, with a clear when and where. A FORECAST is probabilistic statement over a longer time period.
There was something about the statistics and description in Schultz’s article that rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Silver’s definitions generated an “aha” moment: “prediction” and “forecast “are not synonyms, at least not in the field of seismology. The New Yorker pieces talk about the potential effects of this supposedly looming disaster as if it is a prediction. I believe the statistics weren’t clearly reflected, and, instead, it should have been treated as a forecast. Clearly, couching it as a predication makes for a more sensational story.
Let’s circle back to the data for a moment. The idea that the odds are one in three of a big quake occurring in the next fifty years is based on research led by professor Chris Goldfinger of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. Download a summary or the full report for further details. His explanation is that there have been 41 events in the past 10,000 years, or, on average, every 244 years. The last major event was in 1700, and therefore we’re “overdue.” This meets the sniff test for a reasonable forecast.
By the way, just to make sure this is clear, the one in three odds that is referred to does not mean that there is a 1/3 or 33% change in each of the next fifty years. It is a 33% chance for it to occur at any point within the 50-year span. This means that each year there is only a 1/150 or 0.66% chance.
The official position of the United States Geological Service is that earthquakes can’t be predicted. It’s easy to Google the topic and finds failures in both directions: predictions that say a quake is going to occur and it doesn’t, and large quakes that were not predicted even when signs were present. While the search is still on for a foolproof predictive model, perhaps speculators should stick to forecasts.
What I take from this is the realization that words matter. What may be considered good reporting isn’t always conceptually well grounded, even in respected publications. In today’s 24 x 7 media and social environment, stories expand and travel rapidly, regardless if their foundation is solid or not. As a consumer of media, it’s on me to verify and question what I’m ingesting.
Too often it is easy to fall into a trap of perfection—many of us experience this challenge from time to time. Simple decisions, such as what to wear or what to eat, can become daunting due to a proliferation of options. But is perfection always required? When is a decision good enough?
Recently I read Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith. Essentially it is a book about the incredible challenge of personal and organizational change. Goldsmith cited one example that I found quite interesting. Goldsmith coached a senior executive who stated that one thing that would make him happy was to improve his golf game. In his late fifties, he had a lot of demands on his time, was never an accomplished athlete, and disliked practicing. Goldsmith asked, “Why don’t you quit worrying about getting better at playing golf and just enjoy it?” His point was that “marginal motivation produces a marginal outcome,” further elaborating:
“If your motivation for a task or goal is in any way compromised—because you lack the skill or don’t take the task seriously, or think what you’ve done so far is good enough—don’t take it on. Find something else to show the world how much you care, not how little.”
My personal take away is that what is most important is to choose what matters. Where do you really want to strive to be the best and make a difference? In comparison, when does being vaguely right and good enough get the job done? You will be much happier and healthier if you choose carefully where you spend your most valuable and limited resource: motivation.
For more on the topic of decisions and choices, see these earlier posts:
And yet — this abundance of connectivity has created a conundrum. It’s what author and psychologist Barry Schwartz calls the paradox of choice. Simply put — when we have too many options, too much input — we find ourselves overwhelmed with abundance. Young people called it FOMO, fear of missing out. And that fear leaves us often frozen in a blizzard of choice, unable to manage the volume of unfiltered input.
His solution? Living a curated life. Rosenbaum offers a five-pronged approach that is particularly useful in addressing the abundance of technology options and how to sift and winnow to a manageable number:
- Take a personal ‘rhythm’ inventory
- Right size your tools to your life
- Filter your friends
- Get offline and explore real world experiences
- You are what you Tweet and eat
The goal is to, “…not let devices or content drive how you live your life.”
Item two on the list gives me pause. I would hardly know where to begin itemizing all of the technology tools, websites, and apps that I touch every day. Rosenbaum suggests, “But if we’re going to curate our life, the first place to start is with our devices. Open your phone, look at each and every app you have — and delete 2/3’s of them.”
It’s so easy to be seduced by the many choices in the marketplace. Look at all of the choices we have as consumers. Interestingly, there are companies that are leveraging this idea of curation. Examples include: Canoe, Snow Peak, and Trunk Club.
What’s that saying about the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem? Yikes.